General Orders Number 17 is among the most significant documents in Arkansas Civil War history. In this military document, Hindman orders: “For the more effectual annoyance of the enemy, upon our rivers and in our mountains and woods, all citizens of this district who are not subject to conscripotion are called upon to organize themselves into Independent Companies of mounted men or Infantry, as they prefer, arming and equipping themselves, and to serve in that part of the district to which they belong.”
Those subject to conscription were able-bodied males between the ages of 18 to 35. In a prior General Order, Hindman outlines those who are exempt, including those men whose service to their state and local communities were most valuable to ensure the operation of the government and society in general. This was to prevent a governmental collapse, of which Arkansas faced in 1861.
This General Order states the mission of the local armed organizatyions of men. To hold the Federal Army in check at Helena, and to protect the vast area west of the Mississippi from falling into enemy hands, “Their duty will be to cut off federal pickets, scouts, foraging parties and trains, to kill pilots, gunmen & others on Gun Boats and transports, attacking them day and night, and using the greatest vigor in their movements.”
High command in Little Rock was now organizing two armies: one for Confederate service and one for local defense. Hindman had been in office for only 18 days when General Orders Number 17 was written; he wasted no time in preparing Arkansas for the duration of the long and arduous war ahead.